Eating


I’m back from what I hope will be my final trip for a while: a culinary tour of eastern Tennessee, which is a bullet I took for the work team. It was a lot of fun and I met a lot of cool people, but boy do I feel puffy and tired from a week of too much food and social activity, but not enough physical activity. Impressions?

Farm animals!
Sheep, Locust Grove

Desserts:
Cakes, Magpie's

Really cool farmers:
Cruze Family dairy

Mushrooms (everybody grows them there):
Mushrooms

And bluegrass music:
Bluegrass band

I’ll try to do a similar photo-roundup of the Netherlands in the next day or two.

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I just got back today from my all-too-brief trip to the Netherlands, and I’m exhausted from 13 hours of travel and a 6-hour jet lag. A fuller account will have to wait a day or two, but I must sing the praises of the tastiest street snack that I think I’ve ever had: the humble broodje haring. The literal translation is herring bread, but it’s so much more (yet still poetically simple). As I was wandering around the western canal district of Amsterdam on Tuesday noontime and feeling a bit peckish I noticed a small stand on a bridge and went in to investigate. A tall, stern old man in a red apron handed me this little bundle of delicious:
Brootje haring
A small, soft roll filled with fresh, raw herring fillets, minced onion, and sweet pickles. It doesn’t sound like much, but the silky, sushi-grade fish, fresh bread, and crunchy, tangy veggies, enjoyed on a crisp fall day with a view of a quiet canal yielded an eating experience far greater than the sum of its parts. Why can’t New York come up with such a satisfying, fresh, delicious, and cheap (at 2.20 euros) street snack? Our stale pretzels and dirty-water hot dogs are a disgrace.

Chocolate chickens, Nemours

At a sweets shop in Nemours, France, on the road from Paris to Beaune. Because they’re cute.

Hollywood Farmers' Market

About this time last year I went to Los Angeles to visit with an old college friend. I’d never been there before, so he made sure we hit most of the usual tourist spots. But, as many of you know, I love my food, so a major highlight of my trip (on the morning of my departure, actually) was Sunday morning at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market. We picked up coffee and some tasty Korean pancakes for breakfast, and then I amused a lot of the vendors by taking glamour shots of their produce.

Eating

Last July 4th I headed out to Coney Island with my friend Christina to witness the annual Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. We got there a couple of hours ahead of time, but the crowds were already out of control. Shorty that I am, I couldn’t really see what was going on, so I had to relive the event through the photos I shot by holding my camera above my head and blindly aiming and pressing the shutter. The little red-headed Japanese guy in the middle is Takeru Kobayashi, a world-famous speed eater (only 130 lbs!) who nonetheless lost for the second year in a row. I won’t make it out there this year to watch the contest, as I’m gearing up to visit people in Princeton, but I’m still rooting for him.

I really like days that strike the right balance of good Jen/”bad” Jen (bad being in quotes because I don’t think the bad things are all that bad). Yesterday was an example. It being Saturday, I had to haul my sorry self out of bed early to get ready to meet my training group at the top of the park at 8:30; I hadn’t made it to bed until 1 am, however, and I’d woken up around 6:15 with a weird dream.

So I was operating on very little rest for our long-run day. Still, I managed to ride my bike up there and trot a respectable 8+ miles around the park with my new friends (good Jen!). Then about a dozen of us descended on a local restaurant for brunch, and I inhaled a plate of eggs Benedict (bad Jen!), though I managed to resist the lure of bottomless bloody marys (good Jen!). Once home, I showered and dove into bed for a 2-hour nap (bad, or at least lazy), then awoke to prepare for our participation in a friend’s cocktail-making contest. Once there I ate a semi-disgraceful amount of cheese and oatmeal cookies (bad!), but only sipped delicately at itty-bitty samples of my competitors’ special drinks (good!).

And the best part is, we won! Friday’s late bedtime was due to our laboring over the winning recipe, which we called the Forsythia in honor of these very early days of spring. Take note, budding bartenders—this is the recipe that captured the hearts of discerning Brooklynites:

2 parts gin (use a good one with strong juniper notes, like Boodles)
1 part fresh-squeezed Meyer lemon juice
1/2 part simple syrup (increase this slightly to taste if using regular lemons)
1/4 part green Chartreuse
fresh rosemary

Combine all but the rosemary in a cocktail shaker with ice and shake well. Pour into glass over fresh ice and garnish with a small sprig of rosemary.

I’ve had food on the brain quite a lot lately—I usually do, in the sense of what to make for dinner, what’s in the pantry, etc., but I’ve begun to make a real effort to be as mindful as possible about the implications of what I eat. This increasing awareness really began back when I lived in Georgia, when I had a flourishing vegetable garden and kept chickens, which enabled me at times to cook rather elaborate meals entirely from the fruits of my tiny little property (I never could bring myself to kill and eat the chickens themselves, but their eggs were out of this world). But then other concerns preoccupied me for a few years, and I started eating industrial, processed foods again.

Since I moved to New York, though, I’ve started really thinking about my food again. Nearly every neighborhood features a decent greenmarket for at least part of the year, numerous farms from 150 miles around offer CSA subscriptions to city dwellers, and food co-ops feature artisanal and organic foods at decent prices. I’ve taken advantage of many of these alternatives to large-scale industrial and processed foods for a number of reasons: health, environment, local/regional business support, and so on.

But my track record was still less than perfect. For the sake of convenience or cost, I would sometimes stop by a regular supermarket on the way home from work and pick up a Perdue chicken breast, a quart of milk, or some Lean Cuisine frozen dinners and shut my eyes and mind against the knowledge of the synthetic faux-foods in my frozen dinner and the unpardonable cruelty and waste of large-scale meat and dairy production.

I am lucky that my living situation for the past two years has made it much easier and cheaper to phase such lapses out of my routine—I live within an easy walk or bike ride of two nice greenmarkets, and there is an excellent organic food co-op just two blocks from my house. And now that I have recently finished reading Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma and have begun reading In Defense of Food, I am more determined than ever to be a mindful consumer of whole, organic, seasonal, and (as much as possible) local/regional foods. Neither of these books really are saying much that I haven’t heard in bits and pieces elsewhere, but they finished the job of really opening my eyes as wide as possible to the numerous implications and effects of one’s food choices.

I have reconciled myself to the increased cost of better food, because really—do I want to skimp on what I put in my body, my most important investment? Pollan pointed out a fascinating and slightly frightening statistic: in the 1950s, about 1/3 of Americans’ household income was dedicated to food; today, that proportion is about 1/8. The “lower cost” of food is due to the highly industrialized and mechanized nature of food production, not to mention the false economy of subsidized agriculture. So we’re actually still paying a lot for our food; it’s just that the expenditure comes in the form of taxes rather than on our grocery bill. And we’re getting inferior food and environmental ruin in return. So I’ve decided to do my small part to break away from an increasingly unhealthy and unsustainable system.

As I was making these grand pronouncements to Will recently he asked, only half-jokingly, whether that meant we’d be going on a “hippie diet.” In a sense, yes—less meat (though not vegetarian); as few processed/preserved foods as possible; lots of grains and greens. But I love a fancy, pretty meal as much as the next person, so I’ve had a great deal of fun figuring out how to feel good about what I cook and eat without, paradoxically, sucking all the joy out of the process. Tonight’s dinner was a happy example of my new-ish approach to household cuisine. It was roasted pork tenderloin (pastured, hormone- and antibiotic-free, vegetarian, from a small farm in Pennsylvania) with seasonal veggies: organic rutabaga-and-carrot mash with organic butter and heavy cream, and organic kale sautéed in the pork drippings. It was quick (the whole thing took a little less than an hour), healthy, pretty, and delicious:

Meat as "condiment," just like Thomas Jefferson told us!

Meat as "condiment," just like Thomas Jefferson told us!

And this is the new model of eating in my house. Are any of my readers doing something similar?

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